Growing up in the south-west of WA

Host: Katherine Outback Experience
Written by Annabel McLarty – Owner, Katherine Outback Experience.

A lot has happened in the past 12 months at Katherine Outback Experience that I’m looking forward to sharing with you however before we get ahead of ourselves, I had better introduce myself.

Tom and I during a Katherine Outback Experience Show.

My name is Annabel McLarty and I am part of the Katherine Outback Experience team. I’m West Australian born and bred. I grew up on my family’s historic beef farm ‘Blythewood,’ on the outskirts of Pinjarra, just an hour south of Perth.

My family took up farming land around Pinjarra in 1839. They were then some of the first pastoralists to enter the Kimberley Region in the 1880’s where they took up six pastoral leases including Liveringa, Jubilee Downs, Oomagooma, Kalyeeda, Nerrima, and Lulugui Stations (a number of which now feature on Central Station). They had sold out of the leases by the early 1980’s and continued farming just south of Pinjarra. It’s quite special; our farm has been in our family for six generations.

‘Old Blythewood’ – the original homestead on our farm that my grandfather gave to the National Trust.

My dad, uncle, and brother run a relatively intensive beef farming operation on 4,500 acres. At any one time the farm can be stocked with up to 2,000 head of cattle. There are 600 breeders of Shorthorn Angus cross, in addition to approximately 1,000 head of cattle that are bought, fattened, and sold every year. Cattle are traded on almost a weekly basis all year round. We sell to both the domestic markets, as well as the live and chilled beef export markets. We also grow and cut our own hay to feed to stock during the drier months. A fundamental part of the business is the ability to sell to a range of markets.

Mustering cattle using horses in late September.

Beautiful summer evening at Blythewood – it’s hard not to love this place.

We are some of the few farmers in the south-west of WA who still use horses for the majority of cattle work. We have found it keeps the cattle much calmer, making them easier to handle in the yards – not to mention how good it is for us and the horses to get some exercise!

I have two sisters and a brother – I am actually a triplet which is pretty cool (we couldn’t be more different)! We went to school in Mandurah, which took an hour on the bus each way. We all had ponies growing up and when we weren’t competing at pony club, shows, or campdrafts, we would head out and help dad and my uncle with cattle work on the farm. Some of my best childhood memories are the adventures we had whilst the boys drafted cattle in the yards. We used to love trying to dam the creek, skimming rocks across swamps, and looking for treasure (usually old glass bottles or ear tags).

My siblings and I at Harriet’s wedding – from left to right: Nick, Harriet, myself (aka the triplets), and our sister Claire.

I always wanted to go to uni and would have loved to have studied something in agriculture but mum and dad convinced me otherwise. Their reasoning was there would be more opportunities in a more generic commerce type degree and that it was tough for girls in the agricultural world. At the time the economy was being driven by the mining industry and the future of agriculture was looking quite bleak – unlike today anyway.

Although it was my strongest subject at school, I couldn’t think of anything worse than doing a commerce degree! I had to come up with something quick and that would allow me to work anywhere in the world. I turned my attention to Urban Planning. I have always had a fascination with country towns and I knew there was a chance that one day our farm may be developed.

So just like that, a 17 year old fresh out of school, I moved to Perth and spent the next four years studying Urban and Regional Planning. Uni life was great. We worked hard, but we also played hard. Although broke, I recall a six week period where we went out dancing every night except Mondays – that was our “night off.”

Based between Perth and Mandurah, I started my career in the private sector working as an Urban Planner on regional projects. In the early days the majority of my work was generated by the mining boom around Port Hedland, Newman, and Tom Price, as well as the Peel Region. I was working on a range of projects including FIFO camps, residential and rural subdivisions, and shopping centre expansions. I then moved to RobertsDay where I worked in much larger project teams with developers, engineers, landscapers, architects, urban designers, and environmentalists. Here I worked on large scale residential and town centre projects around Perth. The biggest thing I learnt in the planning game is that a multimillion dollar project can be quashed by a clash of personalities or egos – it taught me a lot about people and working in teams.

I loved living in the city– particularly the fashion, bar culture, and endless food options! Many weekends however were spent back at the farm working horses or away competing at campdrafts. It was a bit like living a double life – many of my Perth friends who only saw me in dresses and heels found it hard to believe I was out chasing cattle on weekends.

Camprafting is a huge part of my life. My siblings and I competed at our first draft when we were seven and became hooked. 20 years on and I still love it. It’s pretty unique to have a sport where you compete against your own family and friends, yet are one another’s biggest supporters and love to see each other do well.

Havago Chad and I running an 88 in the first round of the Open at the Dardanup Campraft. We went on to run a 90 in the final to win the event.

As we became more involved in the sport, Dad, with the support of an amazing team of club members built the Boar Swamp Campdraft on our farm. The event always falls on the ANZAC long weekend in April and has grown from strength to strength. It is now one of the most popular drafts on the WA Campdraft calendar along with the Wellard Star of the West Campdraft that we took on running some five years ago. I have been the Event Secretary of the Boar Swamp Campdraft Club for ten years now and this year will step aside due to commitments with Katherine Outback Experience in the Northern Territory.

It was through campdafting that I first met Tom Curtain which subsequently led to my involvement with Katherine Outback Experience, which you can read more about this week.